Simmons scores career-high 37 as Kiski Area beats Gateway in OT
When the ball left his hands, Mike Simmons thought it had no chance.
But when the rainbow shot from half-court splashed through the net to beat the second-quarter buzzer, Simmons just turned and headed for the locker room. No reaction. Poker face.
It wasn't until after the game — after a see-saw 32 minutes of regulation, four minutes of overtime, 14 lead changes, three ties, and a career scoring day — that the skinny and soft-spoken Kiski Area junior guard let the moment wash over him.
“We earned some respect today; our guys played bigger than the game,” said Simmons, deflecting praise for his 37-point performance to his teammates, the 13th-seeded Cavaliers, who outlasted No. 12 Gateway in overtime, 82-73, in a classic WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal playoff game on Saturday afternoon at Plum.
“My teammates got me open, and the shots fell through,” Simmons said. “I kind of just flowed through the game.”
In a statement game that saw the team make 11 3-pointers and play a near-flawless overtime period, Kiski Area advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2002, when current head coach Joey Tutchstone was a senior and the team's go-to scorer.
Kiski Area also qualifies for the PIAA playoffs.
“All season long we have persevered through adversity and showed more determination,” Tutchstone said. “Time and again, that has been our season.
“I'm speechless. I mean, I had tears in my eyes today.”
No flopping this time for the Cavaliers (17-5). No acting. This was real reaction from a team desperate to be part of the conversation again.
Kiski Area will play No. 1 seed and defending champion New Castle (24-0) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at North Allegheny for a spot in the championship game at Palumbo Center.
It will be a semifinal rematch from 2002 when Kiski Area fell 70-66 in a game at Palumbo.
Remembering how they got to the semis again will be good encouragement.
The Cavaliers repelled athletic Gateway (14-10), which has won two of the last three WPIAL titles, and senior guard Delvon Randall, who matched Simmons with 37 points — also a career high — with this overtime line: 5 for 5 field goals, 4 for 4 free throws, three forced turnovers and a 15-6 scoring difference.
“OT went our way,” Tutchstone said. “We went out and got our stops.”
A foul on Kiski Area at the end of regulation allowed Randall to go to the foul line with no time on the clock and the Gators down 67-66.
He made 1 of 2 to send it to overtime.
“We have to keep our heads up,” said Randall, who fouled out in overtime. “We just weren't able to pull away for the victory.”
The team's slight frustration with the foul call spilled over into overtime, fueled it.
“That bothered us and kind of got us going,” senior guard Joey Brungo said. “We weren't about to let our season end like that.”
In the extra frame, Kiski Area scored the first six points, four by Simmons, and Ryan Sciullo hit a 3-pointer before junior guard Tre Talton scored six in a row, including a steal and layup, to make it 80-71.
Kiski Area used a 13-4 run to take a 65-62 lead with 41.8 seconds left in regulation. Simmons hit a pair of free throws to make it 67-64, but Randall's driving basket got the Gators to within a point with 12.6.
Simmons, who converted two four-point plays in the win, scored 18 in the first half but got help after that. Brungo scored 17 of his 18 points in the second half and overtime, Talton had nine points including six in overtime.
Gateway led 31-21 in the second quarter before Simmons' half-court heave fell.
“That helped us turn it around, I think,” Simmons said. “It gave us confidence. And so many guys stepped up.”
Randall scored 14 straight points and 19 of the team's 21 points during one stretch. He had 14 of Gateway's 18 in the third.
Tom Kromka added 14 points and Aidan Howard 10 for Gateway.
Local teams like playing second-round games at Plum lately.
One year ago Saturday, there were a pair of head-turning Class AA quarterfinal upsets on the same floor when Apollo-Ridge clipped Jeannette and Burrell stunned Greensburg Central Catholic.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.